If you told me in 2008, which to my knowledge was the year that I first drank this style of beer, that I’d be writing about how to brew it in 2018, I would have asked you one question: “How did you get here from the future? Have the Eagles won a Super Bowl yet? No, right?” But if I asked you a second question, it would have been, “Why would I do that?” My early experiences with this style were unimpressive. I don’t know whether it’s because the style itself didn’t do much for me, or if it was that they were traveling for too long to have any prayer of being good, or something else, but they struck me as flabby, boring, and not worth the time to drink, much less brew.
Sometimes things just work out, though. Australian sparkling ales needed a little something to brighten them up, and along it came: fun, funky, “Down Under” hops. With some creative hopping, these are worth your time. We’ll walk a fine line here which includes warm mashing and fermentation, atypical hops, and even a salts addition – but trust the recipe and trust the process, and you’ll get something fun, I promise.
The commercial examples on which the style is based are driven by good old Coopers: the jet-lagged pale ales that I sampled back in 2008. The style itself, when we review it, doesn’t sound too bad, so let’s not assume that the versions we can get shipped in are representative. Somewhat contradictorily, the style is both “light and drinkable” (it is, at less than 5% ABV and pale in color) but also with a “large flavor dimension” (fair warning, I’m not 100 percent sure what that means, but we’ll assume that it means you’re OK with some malt and hops flavor). In terms of malt, the guidelines reference using Australian 2-row, but if you believe what you read the Coopers recipe was, for quite a long time, based on an English Pale Ale malt, so there’s some room for interpretation. As for hops, they recommend the traditional Pride of Ringwood and its cousins, but we’re going to ignore that in favor of something more interesting. However, we will be sticking with the herbal character and minimizing floral flavors.
But this beer, in many ways, is about yeast activity. It’s fermented on the warm side, giving it a distinctly estery profile. It’s also – unsurprisingly – highly carbonated, which adds a fullness to the mouthfeel.
Begin with a 50/50 split of Pilsner malt (or Australian 2-row, if you can get it) and Maris Otter, about four pounds of each. To that we add half a pound of 40L Caramel malt and…that’s it. This one’s pretty straightforward in the grist, and you should land at about 1.046 OG.
For hops, you have some choices. On the one hand, you can play it straight and use that boring ol’ Pride of Ringwood. Or you can sit at the cool kids’ table and go with Pacific Jade or Galaxy. I think you know which I recommend. Nothing wrong with tradition, of course, but come on… Whichever you pick, work out however much you need to yield 25 IBUs from a 15-minute addition. That should ensure a fair amount of flavor and aroma survives to color up your palate, but if not, add a whirlpool addition of half an ounce of your hop the next time out (and this is also a good excuse to blend some regionally-appropriate hops, too – just stay away from anything that says “floral”).
Finally, it’s yeast time. We want something with character that isn’t a massive flocculator (goodbye, London Ale III), but isn’t super-downy either. Wyeast 1098, British Ale, is a good choice, and it does some really fun things when fermented warm (without getting out of control or turning your beer into a butter bomb).
Since the style mentions mineral, metallic flavors more than once, this is a good style to brew if you’re rocking pretty hard water. If you’re not, go ahead and hit your mash with a quarter teaspoon of Gypsum to add a flinty flavor (and if you don’t like it, it mellows over time). This is also a solid beer to go ahead and mash warm: it may result in a beer with a bit more body and mouthfeel, but even if it doesn’t the carbonation level should help, too. Boil as usual, chill, and pitch your yeast.
Ferment this beer, start to finish, warm. Not “hot,” mind you – this isn’t Saison – but at a respectable 68F to start, ramping up to 73 or so after a day or two of fermentation. I’ve never yet gotten an ester that wrecked it at that temperature, but one pitch gave me so much berry I swear it was like we added fruit (we hadn’t). It should finish quickly, and don’t bother cold crashing to clear it. Just get it in the bottle or keg, and crank up the CO2 to 2.5-3 volumes. That will give us the full mouthfeel and carbonic bite that the style requires, and which we’ve already backstopped with our Gypsum and warm mash.
Drink it young, too – this one doesn’t age all that well.
Not every beer is going to be interesting – some are just good drinking. The best part about getting adventurous with the hops here is that the base beer is already kind of interesting. It just needed a helping hand. My hat’s off to the hops farmers who made this a regionally-appropriate beer trip worth taking!
Podcast Episode 26: Sierra Nevada Founder Ken Grossman: The Latest Trends
Grossman talked about his early homebrewing days and his hope for the future of his family owned brewing. He also shared his thoughts on the the latest trends and reminds brewers to embrace science, not just art when it comes to making beer.